Airstrikes in Syria over the last 10 days have killed more than 100 civilians, according to the U.N., which has criticized the “apparent international indifference” in response to the escalating violence. The death toll includes at least 26 children.
The Syrian government, backed by the Russian air force, said the increases in attacks on Idlib and areas in northwest Syria, the last remaining major anti-government stronghold, was due to violations of a truce by jihadists with links to al-Qaeda, the BBC reports.
The latest offensive against the rebel enclave began at the end of April, since then the U.N. has documented the deaths of at least 450 civilians, including those recently killed.
The U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the Syrian government, under President Bashar al-Assad, and its allies for the “latest relentless campaign of airstrikes” in a forceful statement, saying they have “continued to hit medical facilities, schools and other civilian infrastructure such as markets and bakeries.”
“Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions,” Bachelet said.
Eight of the airstrikes hit Idlib and two struck rural Aleppo, according to the statement.
Idlib is home to more than three million civilians, half of whom have been displaced at least once, Sara Kayyali, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who specializes in Syrian issues, tells TIME.
They are “trapped between a rock and a hard place,” Kayyali says, explaining that they are victims of extensive bombings by the Syrian-Russian military alliance and can’t escape into bordering Turkey to flee the violence. Those who try are putting their lives in danger. “Turkish border guards will shoot at them and if they don’t kill them, they immediately return them to Idlib,” Kayyali says.
One picture circulating on social media shows a father, standing on top of rubble, with his hand on his head, trying to rescue his two young daughters. His 5-year-old daughter Riham died after grabbing on to her baby sister, after their building was struck in air strikes, the BBC reported.
Violence in the region has escalated since late April, when the government and their allies began their latest campaign, effectively breaking a deescalation agreement between Turkey and Russia that had been in place since September 2018.
Kayyali explains that Russia and Syria have shelved their plans to try and retake Idlib without any major political costs. “They’re going all out mostly because they haven’t made any traction in retaking these areas,” she says.
The Syrian civil war first began after protests rocked the Middle East during the Arab Spring in 2011. Millions of pro-democracy Syrians protested the Assad regime, which in turn cracked down, sparking a brutal war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths ever since. The casualties continue to increase.
Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner, expressed concerns that while the international community paid attention during the early stages of the war, Syria is “no longer on the international radar.” She criticized the “world’s most powerful nations” for a “failure of leadership.”
“Now, airstrikes kill and maim significant numbers of civilians several times a week, and the response seems to be a collective shrug, with the Security Council paralyzed by the persistent failure of its five Permanent Members to agree to use their power and influence to stop the fighting and killing once and for all,” Bachelet said.
Mouna Ghanem, the founder of the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace and a Syrian politician living as a refugee in Denmark, tells TIME that she feels most talk about Syria is “only lip service.”
“I don’t think anyone cares about Syrian lives,” Ghanem says. “The U.N. is completely paralyzed unfortunately in Syria. The U.N. has no power to interfere.”
Kayyali, the researcher at Human Rights Watch, says there are ways for the international community to take helpful action. She says they should pressure Turkey to allow Syrians into their country to flee violence, hold Russia and Syria accountable for breaking international law and conduct meaningful investigations into civilian casualties.
While she is disheartened by recent events, she finds that they are a “pattern.”
“We’ve seen this in Aleppo. We’ve seen this in Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian government has shown no mercy in attempting to retake these areas. This seems to be the last act of the tragedy,” Kayyali says.
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